The UK government has deferred an export licence application for a rare Bidriware tray dating back to 17th century Karnataka in an attempt to encourage a buyer to keep the artefact in Britain.
UK Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism Michael Ellis blocked the export of the ‘Tear Shaped Bidri Tray’, made by an unknown craftsman from Bidar and priced at an estimated 75,000 pounds, last month.
“The Tear Shaped Bidri Tray highlights the style, detail and innovation of metalware produced on the subcontinent during this influential period in world history,” Ellis said in a statement.
“When considering its unique nature, it is right that we do what we can to preserve this valuable item for the nation,” he said.
The UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said that a decision on the export licence application for the artefact has been deferred until April 17, which may be further extended until July 17 later this year if a serious intention to raise funds to purchase it by an individual or institution emerges.
The ministry said that the tray is deemed to be of a rare size and shape and unparalleled finesse. It has been created in the metal-working technique known as Bidri, the name deriving from the capital city of the Bahmanid Sultanate in Deccan – one of the major Muslim kingdoms of medieval India.
It is also believed to be one of only two Bidri-work objects to have its entire outer surface covered in silver inlay, decorated through a complex intertwining of scrolling lines bearing leaves and stylised flowers.
Experts believe that the tray highlights Indian superiority in metallurgy, the scientific study of metals, at the time it was made. Appreciation of the zinc alloy technique of Bidri may be indirectly linked to sharing with England how to produce metallic zinc, or carry out zinc smelting, on an industrial scale.
This would ultimately lead to a transformation in English industrial production around a century later.
“This 17th century Indian tray is exquisite; both in the beauty of its appearance, in the shape of a tear, and in the manner of its creation. It fully reflects the sophistication of Deccan design in the region’s monuments and interiors,” said Sir Hayden Phillips, Chairman of the Reviewing Committee on the UK’s Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest.
“We were unanimous in our view that the tray was of outstanding aesthetic importance and of outstanding significance to the study of Bidri ware,” he said.
Most of the tray’s ownership history remains unknown. It is recorded as having been acquired by the London-based antique dealer Anthony “Tobi” Jack in London by around 1974, and was owned by the dealer Bashir Mohamed from 1974 to 2017.
The decision to defer the export licence follows a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, administered by the UK’s Arts Council.
They made their recommendation on the grounds that the item is of “outstanding aesthetic importance” and significance for the study of Indian and Deccan decorative arts.
Experts believe that 17th century Bidriware artefact is rare in any collection in the world, with the vast majority of pieces in UK public and private collections dating from the 19th century. Even the Jagdish and Kamla Mittal Museum of Indian Art, which has the finest collection of Bidriware in the world, does not own a tray of this type.

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